Short Story Outtakes

outtake (n.): A section or scene, as of a movie, that is filmed but not used in the final version.

In the current issue of inSinC Quarterly, the national newsletter of Sisters in Crime, I contributed a hopefully fun, and hopefully helpful, article about short story writing. “The FOSS Cure” addressed the pesky mental blocks that give writers a Fear Of Short Story.

I was fortunate to have the help of three short story artists who left their day jobs writing mysteries to offer quotes for my piece. However, as often happens with short articles, some wonderful bits had to be trimmed from their contributions to fit the newsletter’s word count. 

Those of us who are film fans know that some of the best stuff ends up on the cutting room floor. Below, with a big Bien Merci to the three talented colleagues and generous friends who shared their thoughts on short story writing, are the extended versions of their comments.

Roberta Isleib,* whose short story “Disturbance in the Field,” published in SEASMOKE by Level Best Books, was nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards, shared these thoughts:

In my experience, there is good reason to be afraid of short stories
as their brevity requires a neatness of plot and character that I find
quite challenging. Every once in a while, I come upon a plot twist
that I can imagine fitting into a short story. What if a patient
became obsessed with the dental office’s whitening system? (Mental
Hygiene, published in RIPTIDE, Level Best Books.) What if a cruise
ship passenger disembarked in Key West and did not return–The
Itinerary, selected for THE RICH AND THE DEAD, edited by Nelson
DeMille.

My biggest challenge has been writing short stories featuring my home
town and its local characters for the “Murder Mystery Night” sponsored
by Habitat for Humanity.

In a very short story, the writer doesn’t have time to develop
characters or describe the setting extensively.  It all happens
quickly.  I could only take a few words to anchor the readers in
Madison and introduce our colorful local characters.  And I had to
figure out the “story behind the story”–that is, why someone would
feel desperate enough to resort to murder.  So I guess I’m saying the
basic structure is quite similar–crime, motive, suspects, detectives,
clues, murder weapon–but all squeezed into 1000 words.  A challenge!
But it was nice to be able to wrap the whole project up within a
month, rather than spending a year on it.

*Check out Roberta’s new writing persona, Lucy Burdette!

Harley Jane Kozak has contributed to a number of short story anthologies, including Crimes By Moonlight: Mysteries from the Dark Side.  In “Madeeda,” nominated for an Agatha Award, an expectant mother is concerned over her two-year-old twins’ visions of a bad witch.

Here is Harley’s take on inspiration:

My short story ideas occur in little intuitive flashes, like headlines out of National Enquirer — “Bride Flees Wedding When Fiancé Insists on 4-Tined Forks!” or “Twins See Purple Ghost Asleep in Master Bedroom!” or “Drunken Man Mistakes Soccer Mom for Lamborghini!” Most often it’s some small, strange incident from my own life that I file away, knowing I don’t have the time or perspective to write about it just then. But it’ll hang around in the file cabinet of my psyche and one day, when I least expect it, I’ll understand what realm it’s in, literary fiction or crime fiction or horror, or I’ll just feel the need to start writing it, or else someone will ask me to write a story and I’ll think, “Yes, now’s my chance to write about the guy who thought he was Jesus and tried to kill me.” I start to deviate from real life soon after the initial premise, and I never know how the story’s going to end, and once I figure it out, I go back and revise, revise, revise, making the story shorter, shorter, shorter. It takes me forever to make it short enough. That’s one of life’s cruel jokes, how long it takes to write a short story. 

Kaye George’s short works have appeared in print, online, and in anthologies, including her recently recently A PATCHWORK OF STORIES (and FISH TALES!)  In 2009, her short story “Handbaskets, Drawers and a Killer Cold” received an  Agatha nomination.

Like the seasoned short story pro I know Kaye to be, her advice was direct, brief and infinitely helpful:

Short stories are easier for me. I think that’s because I can hold a whole short story plot in my mind at once. Also, my long pieces tend  to turn out too short. All you really need for a short story are a protagonist, a problem, and a solution. Anything else is optional. I prefer a twist at the end, too. Even better, a double twist.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts. If anyone reading would like to share as well, please do!


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